honor system will only support virus | Columns
Many states, including Indiana, have largely or completely eliminated restrictions related to COVID-19.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued the recommendation allowing fully vaccinated individuals to remove their masks, adding that social distancing is not necessary for them in most situations indoors, regardless. the immunization status of other people present. There are a few exceptions, including public transport and healthcare facilities.
The CDC’s recommendation reflects the high-potency vaccines provided against COVID-19, including new variants currently in circulation. It is also an indication that we now know that vaccinated people have extremely low asymptomatic infection rates and rarely pass the virus to others.
The recommendation also reflects several factors.
COVID statistics have dropped dramatically in recent weeks – in part due to warmer weather – to the lowest number of daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths in almost a year. Immunization rates have continued to rise – currently 41% of all Americans are fully immunized (36% in Indiana). In addition, around 30% were infected, at least temporarily, adding to total immunity in the United States.
But we are still far from 80% of collective immunity thanks to the vaccination necessary to be really safe. There are still 20,000 new cases and hundreds of deaths from COVID every day. With vaccine hesitation and the politicization of COVID vaccinations, some authorities consider obtaining collective immunity uncertain. The pandemic is not yet over.
The CDC’s recommendation is excellent insurance for people who have been vaccinated. For example, people who are fully vaccinated may feel much more confident to go to restaurants, to the movies, or to be with friends safely. But the CDC did not adequately anticipate its unintended consequences.
The recommendation is poorly designed for businesses and public places where vaccination status is unknown.
The CDC guidelines regarding masks and other restrictions are being used inappropriately by businesses, state and local health departments, and mayors and governors as an open door to end COVID restrictions.
It is not politically feasible in most situations to require people to prove their immunization status or even ask the question. Many states, including Indiana, have banned the government from issuing “passports” for vaccines. In some states, the ban extends to businesses.
The new public health message regarding the pandemic is “personal responsibility” otherwise known as the “honor system”. Without verification of vaccination status, unmasked and unvaccinated people entering public places extend the threat of the spread of COVID-19 to other unvaccinated adults; children too young to be vaccinated; and, even vaccinated, the immunocompromised.
And with the spread continuing, the threat of spawning new, more contagious, deadly, or vaccine-resistant variants remains.
I’m amazed that the CDC and local and state health departments explicitly depend on the honor system to keep unvaccinated people wearing masks. When did personal accountability become an effective public health strategy?
Public health officials have never relied on people to act responsibly or prudently. That’s why we have public health regulations.
Is relying on personal accountability any indication that health officials are politically capitulating to the goal of herd immunity and taking a ‘time to move on’ approach, or for those who choose to remain unvaccinated, do they adopt a “time to accept the consequences” attitude?
Our progress is fragile. We must continue with measured restrictions until collective immunity is achieved while using widespread vaccine passports. Unfortunately, we are probably at the point of no return and these measures are unachievable.
As an official from the World Health Organization recently said: “We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not blinded by the light. “
Dr. Richard Feldman is a former Indiana State Health Commissioner.